Academic journal article The Great Plains Sociologist

Perceptions of the Research Climate in Universities and National Research Institutes: The Role of Gender and Bureaucracy in Three Low-Income Countries

Academic journal article The Great Plains Sociologist

Perceptions of the Research Climate in Universities and National Research Institutes: The Role of Gender and Bureaucracy in Three Low-Income Countries

Article excerpt

Research on scientific careers generally indicates that women and men have disparate experiences and follow separate, often unequal career paths (Fox 2010; Fox and Mohapatra 2007; Xie and Shauman 2003). This conclusion is typically gaged through aggregated measures of gender differences in numerical presence in scientific fields (Fox and Colatrella 2006; Long and Fox 1995), publication productivity (Fox 2005; Long 1992; Long and Fox 1995; Miller et al. 2012) and professional rank (Benschop and Brouns 2003; Fox and Colatrella 2006; Long and Fox 1995).

To better understand these differences, a small but growing body of literature examines men's and women's subjective experiences with and perceptions of the work and research climate (Cech and Blair-Loy 2010; Bronstein and Farnsworth 1998; Fox 2010; Fox and Mohapatra 2007; Smith-Doerr 2004; Todd et al. 2008). Consistent with the conclusions drawn from the more formal indicators of scientific involvement noted above, studies examining assessments of the research environment find that men and women, even when working in the same organization, often have different experiences. Women are more likely than men to report unfair treatment in a variety of institutional processes (Bronstein and Farnsworth 1998), larger teaching loads, and less access to informal sources of information about promotional criteria (Todd et al. 2008). Women are more likely to report tension between their work and family lives, speak less frequently with their colleagues, and rate their work environment more negatively on several dimensions (Fox 2010).

While informative, much of this research is based on those working in academic institutions located in advanced industrialized locations. In spite of the basic sociological premise that a person's position within a variety of social structures impacts his/her attitudes, perceptions, behavior, and life chances, little is known about gender disparities in other research contexts, making it difficult to fully understand scientific environments that might exacerbate, mitigate, or reproduce gender differences within careers. We address this gap by examining gender differences in assessments of the research environment for those working in both universities and national research institutes in Ghana, Kenya, and Kerala, India. Specifically, we ask the following questions: 1) Are there differences in men's and women's assessment of the research environment in terms of their satisfaction with funding, ratings of problems associated with communication and coordination, and sense of autonomy? 2) Do contextual factors-primarily sector of employment and/or region-account for these differences? 3) Does the effect of sex on perceptions of the work environment vary across sector and location? 4) And are there other factors-family status, education, and professional experience-that mediate the relationships between sex, context and perceptions of the work environment?

To answer these questions, we first engage with the debate regarding the degree to which organizations are gendered. While both universities and national research institutes are traditionally conceptualized as bureaucratic in structure, we argue deviations from the ideal bureaucratic form shape gender disparities in experiences and outcomes across the two sectors. Specifically, universities adopt an incongruous bureaucratic structure marked by a disjuncture between university and department level policies regarding expectations for hiring, promotion, and reward structures (Bird 2011). By comparison, national research institutes adopt a hybrid structure, occupying a place between the public and the private and marked by the pooling of resources, flatter hierarchies, and more permeable boundaries (Gulbrandsen 2011). Following that, we highlight the characteristic features of universities and national research institutes that might contribute to differential perceptions and assessments of the work environment for men and women. …

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